Thursday, January 31, 2008

Who says nobody reads long headlines?

I'll bet once you started reading this 1970 ad (from Britain's Health Education Council), you didn't stop until you reached the end.  And then maybe even went back and re-read parts of it all over again.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Curious Case of the Vanishing Croissants

As noted previously, creative people tend to be scavengers. Picking through pop culture for ideas. Poring over award show books for inspiration. And swarming over any food left behind in conference rooms.

Occasionally, those treats were actually intended by be devoured by the creative staff.  In fact, savvy art reps knew that the best way to attract an audience for their photographers and illustrators was to bring a bag of bagels along with their portfolios.  But usually, that silver tray with a couple white doilies held the leftovers of a client meeting -- and once the elevators doors closed, it would take only minutes for the nearest creative people to descend upon the few remaining helpless pastries like locusts.

Sometimes a meeting would end with almost none of the donuts or croissants (or in the afternoon, cookies) disturbed, ensuring satisfying sugar-rushes for the whole department and anyone else lucky enough to be hanging around.  This happened once we watched the account executives and clients file out of the room; as usual, those baked goods never stood a chance.  We scampered back to our desks and art boards, leaving behind only a tray of crumbs.

Minutes later, the account executives and clients returned from their bathroom break, ready for some pastries before resuming their meeting...

The memo we received that afternoon was not a happy one.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Advertising minimalism -- art director version

Yesterday's all-type ad was more of a rarity. (By the way, just because an ad is composed of words alone doesn't make it truly minimalist; by that term, I'm referring to ads where how the type itself is set helps create the whole communication.)

More often, minimalist ads take the form of a self-explanatory photo or graphic, such as the ad pictured above.  I chose this particular one over the dozens that are in books for a perhaps not so obvious reason.  Most minimalist ads suffer from lack of ambition, settling mainly for a visual pun or other non-verbal gag that really accomplishes little more than calling attention to itself and raising awareness of the product.  

But Victorinox ad above tells you everything you need to know about its product with the better known name and distinctive appearance.  One Swiss Army knife does the job of a whole tool box -- notice how clunky and dubious those words sound.  But visually suggesting that same thought actually makes it more credible as well as more memorable -- and more proof that sometimes (yes, here it comes) less is indeed more.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Advertising minimalism - copywriter version

Although clarity and simplicity has always been a goal for smart advertisers, true minimalism seemed to evolve out of Europe's need to communicate in different languages simultaneously; why struggle to say it multi-lingually if you don't have to say it at all. Thus, the one-picture-equals-a-thousand-words approach that married a striking visual to a very simple (and translatable) sentence of copy. Gaining prominence in the late '80s and early '90s, it became the all-purpose tactic for breaking through ad clutter and reaching audiences (and award-show judges) with short attention spans.

Yet, despite the unified front most creative teams present to account management and clients, its possible that -- like the spouses in "Prizzi's Honor" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" -- art directors and copywriters are secretly plotting ways to eliminate each other from the creative process.   That's one theory, anyway, for the rise of minimalism in advertising that doesn't just simplify the visuals and copy, but dispenses with one altogether.

Above is an early example (1961) of the trend.  Just two sentences on black...but those well-chosen words (and their placement on the page) not only precisely suggests an entire scenario, it also communicates a surprising amount of information about the product, its users and its benefit.  Sure, you could have shown more, you could have said more.  But this is one of those cases where, yes, less is more.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Regarding Betty...

No, she was never a real person, and in fact, her name preceded her face by about 15 years.  And in fact, the "Betty Crocker" who had been answering correspondence to the flour miller Washburn Crosby Co. (later known as General Mills) was a man.  But beginning in 1936, Betty was awarded full icon (and womanhood) status, beginning with the portrait you see above, an appearance that served her well for almost twenty years.  But fashion is a fickle thing, and along with Betty's numerous changes of clothing and hairstyles, the poor dear has actually had her features changed, to look younger, more contemporary, more Jackie Kennedy, more Mary Tyler Moore, more Ally Sheedy (depending on the era).  

I've never been particularly fond of the periodic updating, if only because, as Betty keeps getting younger and more stylish, she seems to get less and less credible as a baking icon.  Back when she looked like your grandma, or even your mom at age 50, Betty just naturally exuded baking authority; you took one look at her and you knew, this was a woman who spent more time in the kitchen than in any other room in the house; whose recipe box was stuffed with hand-written index cards and yellowed newspaper clippings; who made baked goods from scratch and maybe even milled the flour herself, too.

Somewhere along the way, baby boomers apparently wanted less of an authority figure (even one in an apron); maybe her pinched features made them feel guilty about the very short-cut they were purchasing).  Gradually, Betty became more of a peer, albeit a friend whose life was so "together," her effortless ability to juggle work and home life was a little annoying.  

I will say this in Betty 8.0's defense, though.  As I gazed upon on her melded features (reportedly a computer-morphed combination of 75 different women of all ages and ethnicities), what jumped out at me more than anything was a sense of that other multicultural everywoman kitchen icon, Rachel Ray.  Almost as if, back in 1996, the folks at General Mills could see her coming and got there first.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

What the Hula Hoop taught me

Richard Knerr passed away last week.  You may not know his name, but you probably know his company.  Wham-O, which Knerr founded (in a garage naturally) with boyhood friend Arthur Melin, set off national crazes like few companies, toy or otherwise, have managed before or since.  Their product line reads like a Baby Boomer's Christmas list:  The Hula Hoop, The Superball, Slip 'N' Slide, Silly String and, of course, the Frisbee (originally called the Pluto Platter when Wham-O bought the rights from from Walter Frederick Morrison).

Beyond teaching us new ways to play, there are things we can learn about marketing from Wham-O, too:

• Maximize Profits:  The typical Wham-O product was designed to be inexpensively priced -- yet was till five times the cost of manufacturing and promotion.

Maximize Seasonality:  Knerr and Melin realized perhaps counter-intuitively, that their prime selling season wasn't Christmas, but spring and summer.  That didn't just help them sell to kids out of school; post-Christmas was also when other toy manufacturers were laying off workers, ensuring them a good supply of labor.

Maximize Distribution:  Inexpensive price-points and a sense of novelty allowed the company to get Wham-O products into a wide variety of stores and department stores.

There are probably more examples, but I know what you really want to read is the inspiration behind the company's name.  So here it is:  Wham-O is how Knerr and Melin described the sound made by their first product -- a slingshot.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

That's one for the clients

Here's Jay Schulberg of Bozell Worldwide on presenting their new milk campaign to Charlie Decker, of the National Fluid Milk Processors:

"Charile loved the milk mustache campaign but had one request.  Could you look at it using celebrities?"

(From "The Milk Mustache Book: A behind-the-scenes look at America's favorite advertising campaign," 1998.  And that's actress Nastassja Kinski in the 1995 ad above, by the way.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

You can't win 'em all

George Lois tells this story in his 1972 book, "George, Be Careful: A Greek Florist's Kid In The Roughhouse World of Advertising."  It takes place roughly around 1971; a struggling account executive (I'm mercifully deleting the man's name) is presenting a new marketing strategy to one of the Papert, Koenig, Lois agency's struggling clients:
"Gentlemen," [the AE] said, "our research has proved that Haloid-Xerox has minimum recognition.  Our sample shows only 3 percent awareness among your key customers.  We believe a major reason is your cumbersome name.  We therefore recommend that you cut it in half.
The nodded in agreement because they felt the same way.  "That's very valuable input," they said.  "And now that you have this excellent documentation, what's your recommendation?"
[The AE] banged his fist against the he said it crisp and clear: "Haloid!" 
They sent [him] back to New York and changed their name to Xerox.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Get the picture?

Any questions?  This 1981 British outdoor board makes a very simple and effective demonstration in a very confined space.  In fact, that limited amount of room actually gives the visual extra stopping power; the doubling over of the pencil is an attention getter and adds extra emphasis on how long the pencil would need to be to contain the same amount of lead.  A great example of how working within limitations doesn't have to inhibit creativity or communication.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Who are you calling crazy?

You know advertising has a problem as an industry when even a prostitute gets to be romanticized as a principled, compassionate individual (Julia Robert's recruitment film for the skin trade, "Pretty Woman."), yet we continue to be blamed for all that's wrong with modern society.

In the eyes of Hollywood, we're talentless hacks at best, professional liars at worst and materialistic fools at the least.   Yes, there are rare exceptions, but generally, when someone in the movies works in advertising, you instantly know that person is going to be either vapid, vain, materialistic, manipulative, unethical, back-stabbing, glad-handing, one sedative away from a nervous breakdown, or a combo platter of all the above.

And then there's "Crazy People," the 1990 movie that not only features every cliche above, but manages to wrap them into a  smug screed about the dishonesty of modern marketing.

"Crazy People," purports to expose advertising as an industry of snake-oil salesmen by casting Dudley Moore as a copywriter whose insistence on telling "the truth" in his ads convinces his colleagues that he's insane.  (As if Hollywood was ever cared about truth; if it did, every picture Mr. Moore made after "Arthur" would have been advertised as "Yet Another Bad Dudley Moore Movie.")  In its undisguised hostility towards advertising, this is a movie that equates persuasion with lying and mistakes cynicism for honesty; when Mr. Moore's ad for a sports car reads, "For men who'd like hand jobs from beautiful women they hardly know," that's not "the truth:"  that's just a coarser, more blatant marketing ploy.  

You know, like the way Hollywood keeps sneaking sexy imagery into movie previews.

This wraps up this week's special theme, "Advertising & The Movies" (you noticed that, didn't you?).  Next week, it's back to more ads, ad commentary and ad agency stories.  I can hardly wait.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Read the ad! See the movie!

We all know the impact of the above 1975 movie on Hollywood, how it ushered in the era of movie blockbusters that have given us more busts than blockbusters over the years. Less widely noted, however, is the impact of the one below.

What?  Am I serious?  That miserable 1978 sequel that gave us with nothing, not even the simple satisfaction of seeing Murray "We're not closing the beaches!" Hamilton end up as a shark snack?  Yet, in it's own way, "Jaws 2" was just as much a harbinger of things to come as its predatory predecessor.  And it all started right here:
Yes, before Roy Scheider took his second dip into those shark-infested waters, taglines -- those pithy pearls of advertisingspeak -- were used only sporadically on movie posters.  Mostly, it was just flat-footed copy like what you find at the top of the first "Jaws" poster -- if there was any ad copy at all.  Sure, there were exceptions, but nothing before "Just when..." soaked into the public consciousness quite like it.  It didn't just launch a thousand parodies (probably beginning with  "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the theatre..."), it inaugurated  a subtle change in movie marketing.   Like shaving cream, toothpaste and laundry detergent, movies could be sold with little more than catchy themeline.

A year later, when the first "Alien" poster was released with its own unforgettable line ("In space, no one --"  Do I really have to tell you the rest?), there was no turning back.  In fact, today, it seems entirely possible that studios are spending more time writing the themeline than the movie itself.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Judging movie posters as ads

Back in 2001, Premiere Magazine ran their choices for "The 50 Greatest Movie Posters Of All Time."  As you might expect, much praise was heaped upon the one-sheets of Saul Bass (including the one above), for their graphic simplicity and bold, abstract imagery.  For my money, though, while his posters were aestethically pleasing, as come-ons for the movies they were advertising, they're a little...sterile.  You can appreciate it more as art than as as something that's going to make someone want to plunk down their cash for a ticket.  For a poster that's both graphic and intriguing, take a look at this one for "Rosemary's Baby."

It's as minimalist (in its own way) as a Saul Bass poster, but the silhouetted baby carriage, with its dual suggestions of innocence and mystery, backed by the ethereal image of a vulnerable Mia Farrow -- is she mid-conception or giving birth? -- makes for an eerie, disconcerting and hard-to-resist advertisement.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

When movie previews were more than just editing jobs...

...this 1984 preview for "Romancing The Stone" went to the trouble and expense of filming a framing sequence especially for the movie trailer. Sure, maybe the film clips alone could have sold the story, along with narration by the usual dramatic movie preview narrator ("In a world where danger was was SHE!"), but using Danny DeVito's desperate character to tease the story (which studio executives reportedly felt had very dubious box office appeal) made for a far more memorable trailer. And when he breaks the fourth wall to deliver his final line of dialogue, it's like he's inviting us into a theme park ride -- which of course, is what pictures like these really are, right?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Which came first? The movie or the ad?

Actually, this 1970 British ad preceded the Joan Rivers movie by a good 8 years.  No telling if Ms. Rivers was inspired by the ad's melancholy image; more likely it was just an extrapolation of the frequently invoked feminine observation that begins "If men had babies, then..." 

Joan Rivers wrote and directed the movie, and packed the cast with a comedic Who's Who of the late 1970s: Imogene Coca, Norman Fell, Paul Lynde, Tom Poston and Jimmy Walker (What?  No Charles Nelson Reilly?).   You know the classic movie put-down the the book was better?  Well, in this case, the ad was better.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Obligatory celebrity photo

Back around 1983, the ad agency I worked for handled the Swiss Miss Instant Hot Cocoa account.  As part of a campaign that featured actor Judd Hirsch, the Yodeling Sweetheart herself was shipped to us from, I don't know, the Swiss Alps or somewhere, to appear in the print ads.

Despite the long trip to Minneapolis (and traveling inside a suitcase), Ms. Miss was gracious enough to pose for a Polaroid with this star-struck junior copywriter.   Though somewhere in her mid-thirties at the time of this photo, she looks remarkably youthful and in high spirits.  Sadly, today, her advertising icon status pales before colleagues such as Tony the Tiger and Kool-Aid Man.  In what is probably the equivalent of being seated near the kitchen, Swiss Miss most recently found herself shunted onto the back of the cocoa package.  And after all she'd done for the company...

Well, I remember you fondly, Missy.  And the feel of those soft, flaxen braids.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

A kinder, gentler ad

Here's an ad with a sell that's so soft, it's almost non-existent.  That little teeny-tiny line of type waaaaay at the bottom identifies the sponsor as United Technologies Corporation, a multi-national manufacturer of aircraft engines, fuel cells, elevators and missile systems, among other products.  Maybe with such a diverse product line, the company simply gave up trying to find a unifying message and instead went for a series of motivational messages that ran in the Wall Street Journal during 1982-83.

This is one of my favorites.  Like the other ads in the series, it has a simple layout, simple headline and short, simple sentences, all to put across a simple a message with universal appeal (one of the other ads, in fact, advised to "Keep It Simple.").  If they had pictures of humpback whales and primeval forests, you'd probably still see them posted in corporate cubes today.   Of course, whether this spurred manufacturers to line up to buy jet engines is anybody's guess, but periodically, big, faceless corporations need to put on a public face.  So why not be a face with a smile?


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

From the adman's bookshelf

"I think advertising's had it.  I don't think people believe in it anymore.  I think it's a waste of money.  I'm not even sure it's moral."

So opines one character (in a new business presentation no less) in Jack Dillon's 1972 novel, "The Advertising Man."  Though set a decade later than AMC's "Mad Men" series, it covers a lot of the same territory, including creative turf wars, double-dealing management and marital discord in the Connecticut suburbs.  And lots and lots of creative angst by people who are convinced they're last line of defense against creeping mediocrity, even as battle fatigue is taking its toll.   (Some things never change.)

Written with empathy and perceptiveness about day-to-day ad agency life (few big explosions, lots of little implosions) -- which isn't surprising, since the author was a V.P./creative management supervisor at legendary creative powerhouse Doyle Dane Bernbach.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Inside the creative mind (part 1).

 What truly sets advertising apart from most other industries is the presence of Creative People (as opposed to creative people, which you can find in any number of businesses).  After all, how many other white-collar businesses do you know that would put up with not one, but an entire department of haphazardly dressed, temperamental and and chronically late employees?  Having gone through this phase, I remember well how our very jobs were the justification for our behavior -- pressured by constant deadlines, we had to be given a certain amount of leeway, lest our creativity wither under the crushing burden of conformity.  Or maybe we were just trying to get away with whatever we could (most of us were in our twenties so you can add immature to that list above).  

Just one example (I have others that I'll get to eventually):  At one ad agency where I worked, there was an art director named Larry.  Now Larry was typical in that he'd work late into the night perfecting his craft with nary a word of complaint, but felt little need to roll in at any specific time each morning.  Although the business day officially began at 8:30 a.m., most days, we straggled in on our own erratic schedules.  However, one day, an account executive walked into Larry's office, informing him that he'd be needed at a client meeting the next day at 9:30 a.m.   "Nine-thirty?!" Larry snapped back, "I'll have to get up early!"

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Monday, January 7, 2008

More proof that copywriters are frustrated novelists

"...he murdered them too."  So begins the copy in this 1983 ad for an article on the insanity defense, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the copywriter had perhaps flipped his lid, too.  A  28-word headline?  That's more words than the entire copy in most ads nowadays.  Twenty-eight words, and yet there's neither an extraneous or wasted word among them.  You've got human interest, sensationalism, drama, irony, dread and when you finally get to that last word -- "Then..."  -- well, who's not going to keep on reading?

Reader's Digest ran a series of ads like these that relied on little more than intriguing copy to draw readers in.  Now that's what I call being true to the product.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Ghost-images from Christmas past

Shameless self-promoter that I am, I'm posting here the holiday card I created last month for my business.  Clients have told me it really works; your results may vary.

Why is Santa all green and purple?  Change him back 
to his traditional festive appearance by staring at him for 
60 seconds and then looking at a blank white wall or paper.  
May the season hold many more fun surprises for you.
Holiday Greetings from Craig McNamara, Writer.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Where do ideas come from?

Reading that former BBDO creative head and industry legend Phil Dusenberry passed away recently, I remembered when he came to Minneapolis to address the Art Directors/Copywriters Club back in the early '90s.  After delivering the inevitable speech about creativity and originality being the key to the agency's success, zigging when the others zag, etc., Dusenberry went on to rib their competitors for following BBDO's work on Pepsi and other clients with obviously derivative concepts.  He then showed some of the agency's work, including Pepsi spots that were homages to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Back to the Future," a Pepsi spot that leveraged America's fascination with Cindy Crawford and a Pepsi spot that traded on Michael J. Fox's "Family Ties" character.  

Yes, they're all clever and successful spots that did indeed make Pepsi one of the era's most consistently entertaining advertisers.   But they also exemplify a curious way of thinking among creative types:  Sometimes, what defines originality in advertising is appropriating from sources outside of advertising.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happiness is a warm television

In this 1965 ad, we see something that's largely vanished from our current advertising culture -- not just a recognition of blue collar workers, but an affection for them.  This is no "Miller Time" good ol' boy factory worker, either.  Schlubby, Ralph Kramden clothes and smelly cigar in hand -- and yet pictured without an ounce of condescension or pity.  And smiling, no less.  The best advertising, it's been said, is aspirational.  Too often that means appealing to the desire to be something you're not.  This ad, though, tells us that happiness is possible being who you are.